Football: Kendall cashes in on Ferguson's fire

Everton 2 Leeds United 0
Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE explosion of relief which swept the stands was both moving and revealing. The Goodison Park 35,000, for whom spring was once synonymous with silverware, are beginning to equate success with survival.

Everton may not take kindly to being cast as the Coventry of the late Nineties, but the latest struggle against relegation is their fourth in five seasons. The danger of Saturday's euphoria is that it could blind those who control the purse strings to the need for an influx of top-quality players to avoid a similar scramble in 12 months' time.

A run-in which starts at Wimbledon today, and includes three home fixtures against mid-table opposition, offers Howard Kendall's team ample scope for another escape. Satisfying as that would be for a "new" manager who has not been allowed to make the requisite improvements to a consistently failing side, Everton's chairman, Peter Johnson, must find funds of a more substantial nature if it is not to become an annual event.

Given the way Barnsley and Bolton are rallying, this win was, to use the vernacular, massive. The word is inadequate to describe the impact of Duncan Ferguson. Gargantuan would be more apposite, both in the way he inspired colleagues and unhinged Leeds.

Lucas Radebe's customary composure deserted him to the extent that he was sent off inside 17 minutes. Everton, already buoyed by Don Hutchison's driven goal against the run of play, killed the contest when Ferguson headed his 10th of the season.

As the World Cup looms ever larger, the Scot's absence from his country's squad is seen as a mystery south of the border. In fact, his exile is self-imposed. It would take a change of heart on both sides, as well as the re-arrangement of his wedding, for Ferguson to break into Craig Brown's plans now, always assuming the manager wanted a player who has never scored at international level.

Hutchison, the Tynesider who is available to Brown by virtue of his parentage, is a different kettle of Scottish salmon. It seems anomalous that he is performing with verve and vision yet is unlikely even to be in the B squad named tomorrow, whereas Leeds' David Hopkin, having played once since February due to poor form and injury, will almost certainly figure in the senior party.

While there has, admittedly, been a question mark against Hutchison's temperament, he avoided the first-half flashpoints here. Uriah Rennie, faced with the Premiership's two most-carded clubs, was right, within the letter of the law, to show red to Radebe. Although he committed only two fouls, each was ill-judged at best.

There was no excuse, however, for both the referee and his nearby assistant to miss a vicious follow-through by Peter Beagrie on David Wetherall within minutes of Radebe's exit (on a stretcher, the South African's damaged knee adding injury to insult). Nor for the failure to punish a malicious indiscretion by Gary Kelly.

These oversights, which contrasted with a flurry of bookings for trivial offences, left the players unsure where they stood. The game became a phoney war, bereft of physical contact. When it was suggested to George Graham that he "must be pleased" his 10 men had fought back well, he replied with refreshing candour: "No, I thought it was a boring second half."

Despite this setback, Leeds remain on course for the Uefa Cup. Their example offers hope to Goodison. Graham also inherited a substandard squad, although like Kendall, his predecessor bequeathed him an excellent youth policy. The skill of Harry Kewell, a latterday Eddie Gray, lit up the darker passages, while for Everton, Michael Ball, a year the Australian's junior at 18, also shone again.

So far, Graham has bought successfully at the lower end of the market. Mr Johnson may cite the Elland Road renaissance as evidence of what can be achieved without major investment. Yet one could not help but wonder about the damage a top-class distributor, like Gordon Strachan or Gary McAllister in their heyday, might have caused with the amount of possession Leeds enjoyed.

Goals: Hutchison (10) 1-0; Ferguson (38) 2-0.

Everton (4-4-2): Myhre; O'Kane, Short, Tiler, Ball; Barmby (Farrelly, 73), Hutchison, McCann, Beagrie; Spencer, Ferguson (Madar, 73). Substitutes not used: Dunne, Oster, Gerrard (gk).

Leeds United (3-5-2): Martyn; Wetherall, Hiden, Molenaar (Haland, h-t); Kelly, Halle, Radebe, Bowyer, Harte; Hasselbaink, Kewell (Lilley, 88). Substitutes not used: Hopkin, Jackson, Robinson (gk).

Referee: U Rennie (Sheffield).

Bookings: Everton: McCann, Ferguson, O'Kane. Leeds: Radebe, Bowyer, Molenaar. Sending-off: Radebe.

Man of the Match: Hutchison.

Attendance: 37,099.

Comments